Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holy Week Lament: Brian Murphy (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)

The Suffering Servant, Jesus,  gave us a litany of last words; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ.  These deathbed words form a framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in small part -- the mourning stories of the dear ones who will share here for seven days.  Their lives walk the path between celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, death of loved ones, death of dearly-held dreams.  Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too.  

For twenty-two years I've been lucky enough to live with the man sharing his story with us today.  For the past eight of those years, we've had the privilege of praying with small groups of men and women seeking healing and reconciliation in their broken relationships.  I've heard Brian tell the words he tells today with each new group.  I asked him, if he might be ready to put them in print?

I was not in the room when he pointed his question at God, but I've watched him listen to the merciful answer every day since: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

Brian in 1979, two years after Pete's Dragon

Our fathers name us. Make no mistake; mothers can try. But one way or the other our fathers are the responsible party for naming their children.

My father left our family when I was six months old. I cannot recall too much about our relationship when I was young; he was an absent father in every sense of the word. For many years I could not even remember times when my dad and I spent any time together. These memories were blocked by anger, sin and sadness.

It was not until I was 29 years old that I could even talk about the pain and loneliness that I had lived with my whole life.

Through much processing and praying with faithful friends, family and pastors I came to two realizations. One, I had been carrying the weight of false names – “no good”, “unlovely” and “undeserving”. Two, although I really hated and blamed my father for his abandonment and rejection, I was not too pleased with God either.

Actually, I was furious with God. I would have told Him, but I was too afraid to say how I felt out loud. Why would a God who called Himself good leave a little boy all by himself?  When a friend finally gave me permission to say it out loud,  I fell on the ground under the weight of my sadness. Through tears and clenched teeth I yelled, “Why God, why did you leave me? Where were you?”

Good news. My Heavenly Father answered. I was able to see God’s leading through my childhood and formative teen and college years as He provided good men to call out of me my true name – passionate teacher, emotional pastor, hard worker, wounded healer, good husband, kind father and beloved son.

More good news. As I began the long journey of forgiving my dad, I was able to see the good things that he had passed along to me.

One repressed memory about my dad’s kindness came back to me through the clean lens of forgiving him. My dad called the house one evening and made plans to take my brothers and sisters to see a movie. I was too young to go. I was heartbroken. I cried. Not the kind of private dignified crying that we adults would like to show when processing wounds but the sobbing, wailing and shaking that we as children feel with fresh rejection and abandonment.

To my dad’s credit he recognized what was going on and got me on the phone. He very kindly explained that I was too young to attend the movie with the older kids but that he would pick me up the next day and take me to a movie – Pete’s Dragon.

With the whole family holding their breath and waiting with me by the front door, I sat expecting the day of my life. To everyone’s relief, dad showed up. We saw the movie; we ate popcorn; we laughed. I would have floated home after the movie, but the day wasn't over. Dad took me to a little bar that he frequented near the theater.

Dad and I entered the bar in grand, theater-entrance style, and he announced, “Hey, everyone, this is my son, Brian.” The whole bar erupted in welcome of my dad and me. The TV channel was changed to something more kid appropriate, the swearing stopped, the cigarettes were extinguished, the pretzels were presented and the soda flowed. I sat on a stool next to my dad and listened to his stories. I felt accepted, loved. I felt like his son.

I would like to tell you that my dad and I had a great relationship from that point on. He was still mostly absent. I would like to tell you that everything is okay between my dad and me. I still process anger and unforgiveness from time to time. I would like to tell you that I always live out of the strong place of my true name. Occasionally I still choose the false name.

James Thomas Murphy II, my dad, passed away about six years ago. I remember that day too. I remember being pissed off that he was going to ruin my plans for a long weekend. I remember going to the hospital. I remember being heartbroken. I cried. Not the kind of private dignified crying that we adults would like to show when processing grief but the sobbing, wailing and shaking that we as children feel when we lose our dads.

While waiting in the receiving line at my dad’s funeral, I received one of the greatest encouragements of my life. My mother-in-law came to me, held my face in her hands as loving mothers do, looked me right in the eye and said, “You are the best thing that your dad ever did. He gave the rest of us a gift, Brian.”

Because of forgiveness, I was able to receive her words of naming. I grieved, and honored my dad. I can recall all of the good things about him -- a great sense of humor, an ability to light up a room, the grace to remember everyone’s name. I was able to see where these qualities were passed to me and where I need to aspire to be more like him.

I am able to tell the story about a little boy and his dad spending one glorious day together.

What mourning stories have formed your life and 
grown your faith in the mercy-giving Jesus?  
 Tell us about it in the  comments below.  
If you've written your own post, share the link.

Most readers here should already feel like they know the good man who is my husband, Brian. But maybe you don't know he's the youngest of five amazing siblings: JoAnn, Jim, David and Kevin. I tagged-along with this Murphy crew almost twenty-two years ago when they let me have their name. I've never been much prouder to be in their family then the day I watched them stand around their father's hospital bed, caring for his needs as he died. They honored him well and I have no doubt he was proud of them. (To process my own grief, I wrote about that day here: Grief.)

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